With Leicester City not in the Cup this weekend (I can’t remember why, nothing embarrassing I’m sure) I’m using the opening to air my suggestions to turn around their form. Yesterday I covered the defensive issues, and today I’ll tackle the real problem, scoring some damn goals.
The Foxes are in the bottom half of the league for goal scoring, and it’s been getting worse; they’ve only failed to score on four occasions in the league, three of those since mid-December.
Perhaps more worryingly, we’re actually slightly outperforming xG (expected goals) according to understat.com. In short that means the finishing is not a problem (despite a big step back from Jamie Vardy), and that we’re just not creating good chances.
While the team struggles to create, some individuals are actually really standing out. James Maddison is 4th in the league for key passes, while Ben Chilwell is 5th amongst defenders, with Ricardo Pereira not far behind.
James Maddison: Created eight chances against Southampton yesterday - the most by any player in a single Premier League game all season.— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) January 13, 2019
Match centre -- https://t.co/4oXlEa543T pic.twitter.com/gJI2YPE1nE
All that really tells me is that those players should be locked into the number 10 and fullback positions, and the rest of the team assembled around them. Their average age of 23 certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
We’ve seen it time and time again though, most recently against Cardiff and Newport, that when teams sit back and force us to break them down, the team really really struggles to do so.
To me this boils down to two key problems in our attack: a shortage of creative players on the pitch and a team that isn’t creating the right chances for their key front man. Below I’ll outline my thoughts on improving these areas.
A Deep Playmaker
Our midfield options, as much as I like them, offer nothing creatively. As good as our fullbacks are, their strength is in running with the ball or getting in behind the the defence. That leaves Maddison with the pressure of being the only player on the pitch really looking to pick a pass.
I think it’s time that Leicester go after a genuinely creative option to pair with one of our defensive midfielders, but who could they look to?
Leicester, meanwhile, are ready to launch a bid for Youri Tielemans at Monaco. He would cost more than £20m but there is significant interest. ⚪️— Dominic King (@DominicKing_DM) January 25, 2019
Well. Now you mention it...
The Belgian has just one assist this year for Monaco but does lead the team in key passes, despite being deployed primarily as a central or defensive midfielder.
A surprisingly competent defender, Tielemans has been making tackles and interceptions in Ligue 1 at a rate very comparable to Nampalys Mendy before he arrived (and only a few ticks behind Kanté). Nonetheless, his strength really still lies in his ability to pick out a good pass, including a Drinkwater-esque ability to play the long ball.
If a new player can’t be brought in, Puel could always try re-deploying those he has. With Harvey Barnes returning from loan, I would certainly like to see him played in the same team as Maddison, one taking the 10 role, while the other drops into midfield.
It’s a complicated issue, and an attacking midfielder, rather than the well-rounded Tielemans does raise another problem: the strong cover provided by defensive midfielders is part of the reason Chilwell and Ricardo have been able to get forward so well.
If a more attacking midfield pairing disrupts that, then I don’t think it’s worth it. But I do believe it’s worth trying.
Stop Crossing. Please.
According to whoscored.com Leicester are 2nd in the league for crosses attempted per game. Remember that these crosses are aimed almost exclusively at Jamie Vardy.
Opposition know that if you pack the centre of the pitch, the ball will naturally flow to the wide areas that we’ve filled with wingers and overlapping fullbacks. Once Vardy is accounted for, we have nowhere else to go with the ball.
This tactic to drop back and defend the box also leads to another troubling trend: only Southampton and Fulham have taken a higher proportion of their shots from outside the 18 yard box. These kinds of chances very rarely go in (especially when taken by Wilfred Ndidi).
Jamie Vardy has only had 13.5% of Leicester City's shots this season.— Leicester City Stats (@stats_lcfc) January 23, 2019
39 out of 287..
Wilfred Ndidi has taken more..
My solution to both problems is, well, a deep playmaker. Whether its Tielemans or Maddison, a deeper player on the ball draws out an extra defender. That creates more space to pass into, while also providing a second option through the middle (Maddison or Barnes). With more space and options, you can’t be forced wide so easily.
If I was forced into two defensive midfielders, I would still be trying to line up Maddison and Barnes together. With the way our FBs play, two extra wide players is just a waste of resources. While one of the two would be a winger in name, you can be sure they’d drift inside and, by playing off one another, ought to create themselves a little more space, and some better balls laid into Jamie Vardy.
Whether forcing the ball into Jamie Vardy is the best long (or even medium) term plan for this team is a very long discussion for another day.
Still, it’s pretty clear that the current plan is also not working. All changes to be more attacking will likely have a negative impact on defending to some extent, but the truth is that while clean sheets keep you up, the top half of the table is often determined by goals scored.
It’s not my money, so I’d pay whatever it takes to bring in Tielemans. At 21 he fits the plan for Puel to build through young players, and I really think that a player of his quality could make a big difference. If not, I think there are changes here that, while they will weaken the back line, will bring enough extra chances to push the team back up into contention for 6/7th.